Thor Halvorssen (human rights activist)

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Thor Halvorssen
Thor Halvorssen.jpg
Born (1976-03-09) March 9, 1976 (age 44)[1][2]
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania
OrganizationHuman Rights Foundation (Founder and CEO)
Oslo Freedom Forum (Founder)

Thor Leonardo Halvorssen Mendoza[a] (born 1976[1][2]) is a Venezuelan human rights advocate and film producer with contributions in the field of public policy, public interest advocacy, individual rights and civil liberties, and pro-democracy advocacy. The New York Times described Halvorssen as a maverick "who champions the underdog and the powerless."[1] Buzzfeed publishes that Halvorssen "possesses a burning desire to right the countless injustices of this world and he has committed himself to this task with an intensity to match that of the dictatorship he has placed in his sights. And he does not care if those injustices are being committed by the 'right-wing' or 'left-wing' regimes."[3]

Halvorssen is founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual gathering described by The Economist as a "spectacular human-rights festival ... on its way to becoming a human-rights equivalent of the Davos economic forum".[4] Halvorssen is president of the Human Rights Foundation, an organization devoted to global human rights and freedom. He is the Patron of the Czech-based Children's Peace Movement, On Own Feet,[5] Halvorssen bought the traditionally leftist Norwegian news magazine Ny Tid in May 2010.[6]

Halvorssen's opinions have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, Time magazine, The Nation and National Journal, and he has appeared on television outlets such as al-Jazeera, BBC News,[7] Fox News Channel’s The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes, MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, CNN, and HBO. Thor Halvorssen was a speaker at TEDx at the University of Pennsylvania in October 2010.[8]


Halvorssen was born in Venezuela to Hilda Mendoza, a descendant and a relative, respectively, of Venezuela's first president Cristóbal Mendoza and liberator Simón Bolívar. His father is Thor Halvorssen Hellum, who served as a Venezuelan Ambassador for anti-Narcotic Affairs in the administration of Carlos Andrés Pérez and as special overseas investigator of a Venezuelan Senate Commission. His family was prosperous and on his father's side he is the grandson of Øystein Halvorssen, who served as Norway's honorary consul-general in Caracas[9] and who "built a family dynasty as the Venezuelan representative for corporations including Dunlop, Alfa Laval and Ericsson."[1] His cousin is Leopoldo Lopez.[10] a Venezuelan politician, activist, and a political prisoner after called for peaceful protests in February 2014.

Halvorssen attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, with concurrent undergraduate and graduate degrees in Political Science and History.

Father's imprisonment[edit]

Halvorssen’s father, also named Thor Halvorssen, was a wealthy businessman who was named the CEO of Venezuela's state TV CANTV[11]. In 1989, then-President Carlos Andres Perez appointed Halvorssen Sr. as Venezuela’s “anti-drug ambassador.[12]

When Halvorssen was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania,[13] in 1993, his father was arrested while investigating the Medellín cartel for money laundering and bank fraud. His father was tortured, beaten, and in danger of being murdered[14] during his 74-day incarceration in a Caracas jail on "trumped-up" charges of terrorism.[15][16][17] Halvorssen led the campaign for his father’s release, garnering help from Amnesty International[18] which issued protests along with other International organizations. Halvorssen was eventually found not guilty of all charges. After his release the United Nations-affiliated International Society for Human Rights appointed him director of their Pan-American Committee.[14][19][20]

Mother's shooting[edit]

While attending a peaceful protest of the Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004, Halvorssen's mother, Hilda Mendoza Denham, a British subject, was shot.[21] Images of government supporters firing upon the demonstrators were captured by a live television broadcast.[22][23] The Wall Street Journal published an article written by Halvorssen about the shooting of his mother by members of the Venezuelan government security apparatus.[24] The gunmen were later apprehended, tried, had their sentences revoked, tried again, found guilty, and received 3-year sentences for murder and for bodily harm.[25][26] They were released after serving six months in prison.[27]


Halvorssen has a specialty on matters regarding dictatorships, human trafficking, slavery, and threats to democracy. He has lectured widely on the subject of human rights including at Harvard Law School, the New York City Junto, the United Nations Association in New York, and the American Enterprise Institute.[28][29][30][31] Halvorssen has also spoken at the British parliament.[32]. Alongside Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow he testified to the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights of the U.S. State Department.[2]

Halvorssen testified to the U.S. Congress that he was the target of a smear campaign by Fusion GPS. Halvorssen provided testimony to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2017.[33][34]

Lucent Technologies[edit]

In 1999, Halvorssen spearheaded a campaign on the floor of the Lucent Technologies annual shareholder meeting appealing for the creation of an anti-slave labor policy whereby Lucent would require China to certify that Lucent's products were not fabricated using slave labor. China's Laogai camps allegedly imprison eight million men, women, and children in 1100 factories, farms, and other facilities producing a wide range of consumer products.[35]

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education[edit]

In 1999, Halvorssen became the first executive director and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a U.S. civil liberties organization. As head of FIRE, Halvorssen formed coalitions that brought together the conservative and libertarian advocacy organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, Feminists for Free Expression, the Eagle Forum, with more traditional free speech defenders such as the ACLU. Halvorssen has a track record of defending individuals both on the right[36] and on the left of the political spectrum.[37]

In 2001, Halvorssen stated that, "Liberty of opinion, speech, and expression is indispensable to a free and, in the deepest sense, progressive society. Deny it to one, and you deny it effectively to all. These truths long have been ignored and betrayed on our campuses, to the peril of a free society."[38] In a 2003 moderated chat, he said, "History has taught us that a society that does not respect individual rights, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech will not long survive as a free society in any form."[39]

Human Rights Foundation[edit]

Halvorssen stepped down as head of FIRE in March 2004 to join its Board of Advisors and announced the creation of an international group that would "champion the definition of human rights that originally animated the human rights movement, centered on the twin concepts of freedom of self-determination and freedom from tyranny."[40] HRF was incorporated in 2005, opening its headquarters in New York City in August 2006. Its International Council includes several well-known prisoners of conscience such as Elie Wiesel, Harry Wu, and Vladimir Bukovsky. It also includes democracy activists such as Mart Laar, and Garry Kasparov. Its chairman until his death in December 2011, was Václav Havel.

At the helm of HRF Halvorssen has repeatedly lobbied and advocated for the release of Chinese political prisoner Liu Xiaobo.[41][42] In 2010 Halvorssen was special guest of Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Prize ceremony awarding the prize to Liu Xiaobo in absentia.[43][44][45] Halvorssen is identified as a supporter of Chinese Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer and has sharply criticized the Tawainese Kuomintang government for its banning visits by Kadeer.[46] Halvorssen has supported UN-level action to address the violations of Uyghur rights in China.

Halvorssen appears as a frequent critic of Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni and, in particular, the legislative efforts in Uganda to punish homosexuality with the death penalty.[47] Halvorssen is a critic of Hugo Chávez,[48] and has written on Venezuela’s anti-Semitism and the assault on democracy and individual rights in Latin America.[49] Halvorssen's criticisms have also been directed at U.S. Republicans such as Jack Kemp[50] as well as Democrats including John Conyers and Jose Serrano.[51] In a symposium published by the American conservative magazine National Review, he condemned Augusto Pinochet for his human rights abuses.[52][53] Halvorssen led a campaign to expose Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov’s human rights violations and ultimately created a firestorm for Hollywood actress Hilary Swank after she accepted a cash payment to celebrate Kadyrov’s birthday.[54][55] In the same manner Halvorssen has exposed payments from dictators to Jennifer Lopez, Erykah Baduh, Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, and 50 Cent.[56][57][58]

Other advocacy campaigns include Panama’s president Ricardo Martinelli on freedom of speech violations; political prisoner cases in Venezuela, Vietnam, Cuba, and Bolivia; as well as the rights of human rights defenders in Colombia.

Oslo Freedom Forum[edit]

In 2009, Halvorssen founded a global gathering of human rights advocates called the Oslo Freedom Forum. It has taken place in Oslo annually since then. According to Wired Magazine, "if the global human-rights movement were to create its own unified representative body, it would look something like this."[59]

Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang called it a "Gathering of Heroes".[60] The Economist calls it the "Davos of Human Rights." Participants include Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Aliokhina, Sudan's Lubna al-Hussein, Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, China's Ai Weiwei, Tahrir Square protest organizer Wael Ghonim, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Iran's Marina Nemat, Peter Thiel, Julian Assange, Václav Havel, Garry Kasparov, Leopoldo Lopez, Nobel laureate Lech Walesa, and Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovskii.

Children's Peace Movement[edit]

Since 2009, Halvorssen is listed as "Patron" of the Children's Peace Movement, On Own Feet. Known as the "Centipede Movement" it is a Czech-based group that facilitates bilateral relations between children and adolescents in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Canada, and Norway with children in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.[61][62] The previous Patron was former Czech president Václav Havel.


Halvorssen executive produced Hammer & Tickle, a film about the power of humor, ridicule, and satire as the language of truth under Soviet tyranny. This film premiered at Tribeca in 2006.[63] The film won Best New Documentary Film at the Zurich Film Festival.[64]

Halvorssen co-produced the film Freedom's Fury which was executive produced by Lucy Liu, Quentin Tarantino, and Andrew Vajna. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.[63][65] The film relates the story of the uprising against the government that occurred in Hungary in 1956.

Halvorssen is producer of the film The Singing Revolution, a film about Estonia's peaceful struggle for political independence from Soviet occupation.[66] The film premiered at the Black Nights Film Festival in December 2006 where it received a 15-minute standing ovation.[67] Since then, it has become the most successful documentary film in Estonian box-office history.[68]

Halvorssen produced The Dissident in 2019, a film about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.[69] The film was directed by Academy-Award winning director Bryan Fogel. [3]


Thor Halvorssen's Filmography[70]
Title Year Role
Hammer & Tickle 2006 Producer
Freedom's Fury 2006 Producer
The Singing Revolution 2006 Producer
The Sugar Babies 2007 Producer
Indoctrinate U 2007 Producer
2081 2009 Producer
Pups of Liberty 2009 Executive Producer
U.N. Me 2009 Executive Producer
State of Control 2016 Producer
The Dissident 2020 Producer

Awards and recognition[edit]

University of Pennsylvania president Judith Rodin honored Halvorssen's achievements by awarding him the Sol Feinstone Award for protecting student speech.[71]

In 2010 Romanian leader Emil Constantinescu presented Halvorssen with a presidential silver medal to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Romanian Revolution of 1989. "On behalf of those who fought and died for freedom, I present this medal to the Oslo Freedom Forum founder, and remind those here that even if Romanians live in democracy now, we cannot feel entirely free as long as other people – who live under dictatorial and repressive regimes anywhere in the world – are not also be free."[72]

In 2018, Halvorssen was awarded the Millennium Candler Justice Prize, honoring leadership in effecting positive social change, presented at the Millennium Gate Museum.[73] The prize was previously awarded to Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and to Prince Jean of Orléans, Dauphin of France.[74]



a Halvorssen Mendoza is known commonly as Thor Halvorssen. Per Venezuelan naming conventions, his full legal name includes both his father's (Halvorssen) and mother's (Mendoza) surnames. His full, legal, Venezuelan name distinguishes him from his father, Thor Halvorssen Hellum. (See Thor Halvorssen - Presidente. The Human Rights Foundation. Retrieved on July 21, 2007. (in Spanish) Also see re: Francisco Usón—Political Prisoner and Prisoner of Conscience. Human Rights Foundation. Retrieved on July 21, 2007.)


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External links[edit]